Bellevue voters choose Steve Carmichael to fill vacant City Council seat - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 9:46 am
Bellevue voters choose Steve Carmichael to fill vacant City Council seat

Bellevue's Ward 1 residents have a city councilman for the first time in seven months, and he's likely to bring some changes to City Hall.

Steve Carmichael won more than 63 percent of the vote Tuesday in a four-candidate special election.

“I'm so proud for the electorate of the city of Bellevue to give me such a mandate,” Carmichael said. “I'm humbled and I'm proud.”

Carmichael, 56, works as chief building inspector in Council Bluffs. He'll serve as the representative for southeast Bellevue, including the downtown and riverfront areas.

The election was preceded by several months of fights at City Hall, and residents say the ordeal left lingering discontent in Ward 1 and Bellevue as a whole.

That discontent translated to the polls, where voters rejected longtime Bellevue businessman Dave Compton by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

Compton said during the campaign that he had been “hammered” with questions about his role in the City Hall controversy and his close relationship with city council members.

Rusty Hike, a former Sarpy County Board member, said he's glad to see the council vacancy filled, but he thinks it showed a lack of leadership at city hall.

“Really, you just need someone to step up and take the lead and try and unite all the people of the city,'' he said.

The process of finding a new council member began in March, when Councilman Scott Houghtaling left after serving only a few months. Wrangling between the mayor and the city council began almost immediately.

Mayor Rita Sanders tried to appoint local businessman Mike Hall to the seat. Three council members — Don Preister, Carol Blood and Steve Knutson — rejected her choice. They said another nominee, Compton, was better qualified.

They proposed a special election, which needed four council votes and approval from the mayor. Sanders and council members Kathy Saniuk and Paul Cook nixed that idea, saying it was too expensive.

The three council members continued to vote down the mayor's appointment.

Meanwhile, frustrated ward residents appeared at every council meeting to ask the city to resolve the issue.

The city also drew a rebuke from Secretary of State John Gale, who said the residents deserved representation and that the city should act quickly to fill the vacancy.

Blood, Preister and Knutson eventually said they wouldn't accept any nominee put forth by the mayor, and Saniuk and Sanders decided to approve the special election.

The election brought 15 percent of Ward 1 registered voters to the polls.

Carmichael, a Republican, called the results “quite a statement by the citizens of Bellevue.”

Compton drew about 27 percent of the vote, while Democrat Steve Dawes and Libertarian Michael Knebel each received a little less than 5 percent.

Kathy Holkeboer, who had previously asked the council to approve Sanders' appointment, said she's still not happy with the expense of the election. But she's ready for the city to move on, she said.

“My view is we need to do a better job, get the new guy in and let's see if we can do some representing of the people,” Holkeboer said.

Tom Richards, a former Bellevue councilman and current Sarpy County commissioner, said the state law regarding council appointments should be changed.

The power to appoint board members should lie either with the mayor or the council — not both.

“You can't have two separate branches of government (involved) without having that rub,” Richards said.

Carmichael is a former City of Bellevue employee who retired as chief building inspector.

As a council member, he will have to make decisions about difficult issues such as funding a full-time fire department and the transition of City Hall out of Olde Towne.

His views diverge from the current council majority in several ways. For example, he was critical of the council's handling of the budget last month and said he would like to see more cuts.

Carmichael will probably be sworn in at the next council meeting, and he will serve the remainder of the term, about three and a half years.

World-Herald staff writer Cody Winchester contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Roseann Moring

roseann.moring@owh.com    |   402-444-1084    |  

Roseann covers Bellevue and Sarpy County crime.

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